This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. McGovern (D-MA), to a bill providing funding for the Defense Department 2010 fiscal year. The amendment required the public disclosure of the names of students and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Rep. Bishop (D-GA), in whose district the Institute is located, was a co-author of the amendment. He first said he supported the Institute and called it one of the greatest tools for democracy in the hemisphere. He then said “(B)ut we want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding . . . The all-encompassing question is whether or not the Institute or its predecessor trained terrorists and murderers who did harm. That's an issue. But to create transparency, we want to make sure that this amendment passes so that people on both sides of the issue can get the facts and transparency and know who goes to the school, who teaches at the school, what the curriculum is.”
Rep. McGovern argued that “for over 40 years, the names of students and instructors at the former U.S. Army School of the Americas and now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation were available to the public . . . Suddenly in August 2006, the names became classified. The only reason cited by the Defense Department for denying the names was that the list includes personal information, but nothing about the request had changed. No one had asked for new information and certainly none of a personal nature . . . In over four decades of public access, not once has there ever been a whisper that the military officers attending the Institute were targets.”
Rep. Hunter (R-CA) argued against the amendment, saying that “if you release the names of these foreign special operators that are at the Institute, you are literally encouraging their murder.” Rep. McKeon (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, also opposed the amendment. He noted that Congress already receives the information.
Rep. Gingrey (R-GA) suggested that the real intent of the amendment “has less to do with transparency and more to do with the efforts to shut the Institute down.” He argued that publication of the names “could serve as a disincentive to Central and South American, and Mexican . . . students who otherwise want to attend the Institute and could discourage nations from sending their students to the school. It would undercut the effectiveness of the Institute as a tool for building hemispheric security cooperation and communicating the democratic values and respect for human rights we espouse.”
Rep. Skelton (D-MO), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who supported the amendment, responded by arguing that “a policy of public disclosure of student names and instructors will remove one of the lingering doubts about this school . . . I am very proud of what it does . . . (and) revealing the names does not discourage attendance.”
The amendment passed by a vote of 224-190. Two hundred and eighteen Democrats and six Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and sixty-four Republicans and twenty-six Democrats voted “nay”. As a result, language was added to H.R. 2647 to require public disclosure of the names of students and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.